Tuesday, 12 August 2014

The Changing Face of Genealogy Collaboration

We talk about collaboration and telling the stories of our family almost as though it is something new. Surely this is the real reason why so many of us get interested in genealogy in the first instance. Whatever our age we all like to hear about things that have happened be it last week or last century.

This month I have decided to write about collaboration and how the perception of genealogy has changed due to the internet and our increasing use of what is available to connect with others.

When I first started researching our family history (I am also researching my husband's family) the internet was in its infancy and we were on dial up. This was expensive and you would go online pick up your emails and read them later.
Collaborating with others was difficult but not impossible and like many others I used some of the Rootsweb mailing lists of relevance to my research interests.
The only other way of communicating with fellow researchers was to belong to a family history society to find other researchers and contact them by post.

Research in those early days, even just finding a reference to order a certificate, meant heading off to record offices or local archives where you had to trawl through microfiche or film to find what you wanted. There were some indexes available mainly through local family history societies which did help you find the right roll of film.

Programmes like WDYTYA http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b007t575 which is showing its 11th series in the UK have changed public perception and sparked interest in the hobby. Despite only a small proportion of the resources available being online, what is there has made a difference to the way we both conduct and record our research.

These changes have taken place over a relatively short space of time and it is true that there are those who have not truly embraced the changes.

There has been discussion on social networks about how family history societies may need to change to connect with the needs of their members. Some have been forward thinking and have reached out to researchers across the world by providing access to online education but this may not be an avenue that every society can or should copy.

The societies I belong to in England have changed some of the things they do but we must not forget that they rely upon volunteers. The direction that each society takes will depend upon who has the time and inclination to commit to the development of that society. This can lead to a society stagnating because none of its members has the inclination or time to commit to change. If you belong to a society which may be stuck in the past don’t forget to make suggestions, they may get ignored, but any society is only as good as its members are willing to make it.
What do you want from your society? Don’t forget to tell those who help run the society, you may find that others think the same.

I have mentioned discussion on social networks and these have become the equivalent of the mailing lists of the past but more. Facebook has groups for genealogy and Google+ has its communities. There are also others such as Twitter and Pintrest. Whereas we communicated by email and text in the past we now have a much more visual way of sharing. This has enhanced our ability to share our experiences but opened up more challenges when we publish online what might be copyrighted. Will these copyright challenges limit our experience?

We also interact using our blogs such as this one and many other individual blogs see Geneabloggers http://www.geneabloggers.com/genealogy-blogs/  maintained by Thomas MacEntee.

Whilst webinars http://blog.geneawebinars.com/ are an educational resource they can help provide pointers to things you may not be aware of and they are a great way to get information to those who may not be able to get to conferences or other genealogy events.

Video blogging using the Hangouts on Air on Google+ is becoming increasingly popular and allows genealogists from across the world to communicate by live discussion. They can also be used as a tool similar to webinars and a way to share how you do things.

To finish I would like to tell you about a Google+ community I am setting up to discuss how we get our genealogy software to work for us.

I will post on my blog http://masteringgenealogysoftware.blogspot.co.uk/ when I launch. I want this to be a discussion forum so that we can learn from each other, we all need to collaborate.


  1. I look forward to collaborating in your community Hilary

  2. +Hilary,

    I agree with Jill about your new community. Can't wait for it to launch.

    As you know, the DearMYRTLE Genealogy Community on Google+ is all about collaboration.

    Several Google+ Communities that I belong to talk about the 3 C's. Communications, Collaboration, and Communications.

    A Google+ Community is where that can happen.

    All the best


  3. So many excellent comments in this post Hilary! Google+ Communities give us the ability to incorporate a number of activities, posts, images, videos, and hangouts (a free broadcast studio). They provide for interaction and education. I look forward to learning about how you incorporate various genealogy programs to assist with your family history activities.

    As important as that intro as to "future attractions from Hilary" is your other comment about societies or organizations. So many times we take a stand on something that happens in a group with little knowledge or skewed knowledge. So many members are on the "outside" because they join but never volunteer or they want a particular thing from the group and if they don't get it they walk away. Many focus on short-term interest or entitlement in societies ("I pay a subscription fee, what have you done for me" attitude) or not wanting change/wanting change too quickly. And often (but not always) those who want change aren't willing to help out, they want someone else to do the heavy lifting.

    When I look at the various genealogy organizations, I see a small group of individuals who step up to volunteer because there are always vacancies, a few people who are over-extended by taking on too many jobs or too many groups, some positions that are just too large for one person, and those who work tirelessly in the background who we don't know but who actually are the ones keeping the group running. I am a firm believer in not having one person in any position for too long and for grooming (or preparing) someone who will fill that position next. I am very impressed with the FGS approach as they seem to have smooth transitions and lots of institutional knowledge that takes them from strength to strength. The key though is always volunteers - how do we get people to devote a little time and share that burden?

    There have been a few posts lately about what societies are doing right and what they are doing wrong. Something I noticed was the recent "why I am not rejoining a society" survey. All of the choices related to why the group was not meeting an individual's needs. None of the choices included whether the individual had ever done anything for the group - an interesting omission.

  4. Tessa thanks for your comments. I wanted to open up discussion. As you have said the views of many who join are too often what can the group do for me rather than what can I contribute to the group. We all need to understand that the adage that it can be better to give than receive does hold true and that contributing has it's benefits.

  5. I read your post earlier Hilary and agreed with much of what you said and concur with the comments Tessa made.

    I recall starting my research in the late 1980's when the England and Wales Birth, Marriage and Death indexes were located at St Catherine's. A day researching was akin to a few hours in the gym, as lifting those books was heavy! That was the days before FreeBMD. The days before the internet, before blogs, emails and YouTube, and tablets. Indeed the only tablets involved a glass of water!

    We have achieved so much, no doubt on the back of the work of a few. A few with vision, determination and a willingness to share and be able to collaborate. Today I connected in two hangouts - one in the US and other New Zealand. How much has changed?

    What has been consistent over the decades has been the existence of family history societies, of which there are several groups. The first are the 20th Century groups struggling to get their head around new technology, because there is so much to do, falling to the shoulders of too few. Then there is the group of active societies who embrace new technology and yet want to hail back to the good old days and there is the group of those who have embraced technology.

    One thing that is for sure is that there are too few people doing the work of many, which I find curious given as we are in a new age, an age that should enable collaboration and team work. The lack of people raising their hands and wanting to bring skills, time and contributions to the table is sad. I understand we are all busy, but I am a firm believer in that you only get out what you put in.

    This very blog started because of something that Jill wrote. I thought what a great idea it would be to see if we could collaborate across the miles, time zones and continents. We can and we do (pretty much) deliver. In fact I have had two people who want to join us, (if you are one of those who emailed me I promise to reply tomorrow!)

    Can we bring collaboration to the fore front for 2015? Can we get more genealogical bloggers to join us and contribute? Can we make 2015 the year that genealogists unite and contribute even the smallest amount? After all many hands make light work.

    1. Well said, Julie. I started serious research in the early 1970s, so I have seen all the changes (good and bad). As for this collaborative blog... I try to write about topics that are (or should be) of interest to many family historians regardless of what country they live in - though I admit to a slight bias towards UK and Australian sources, for obvious reasons!


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